Froggat, Curbar and White Edges
The eastern gritstone upland of the peak district is topographically similar along its length. The main escarpment rises about 150m from the river Derwent, with a broad plateau before a second smaller escarpment, often up to 50m in height, with upper moors beyond. These shelves show the best remains of prehistoric farming, as in the past the soils here were light and sandy, but have deteriorated to today’s peaty landscape. This downgrading in the quality of the land has prevented more modern farming from obscuring the prehistoric remains.
This walk follows the edges of the upper and lower escarpments in the area of Big Moor, highlighting some of the Neolithic remains that are still visible to this day.
The walk starts from the car park above Curbar, at grid reference 262747. This car park, as with most car parks in the Peak District is pay and display, with a pound getting you four hours parking. Cross the large style to the east side of the car park entrance, entering the Eastern moors estate. Follow the large path beside the wall until a junction where the main path bends round to the left. Follow the right hand path, indicated by a small white arrow on a wooden post. The path drops down into the valley of Sandyford brook, crosses a rugged bridge of railway sleepers, and climbs beside the end of a series of stone walled fields.
At the top of the climb, a signpost indicates the route along White Edge, which is our eventual destination, but first a small detour. Turn right at the signpost, and follow the track in a southerly direction. At a small post there is a left turn onto something which is nothing more than a sheep track, follow this track as it climbs onto the low ridge above. This area, with no heather is the remains of a Neolithic ring cairn, and represents the western edge of a Neolithic farming settlement. Following the ridge to the obvious rocky outcrop at its end follows the edge of the ancient field system.
The rocky outcrop at the end, marked as Swine Sty on the map, also show scars from an earlier age. One of the rocks shows a distinctive hole with smaller holes radiating out from it, like a simplistic image of the sun. This however is not an indication of some prehistoric solar cult, but the impact point of a world war two mortar shell. The whole of big moor was used for training both the airborne division and the home guard during world war two. The rock outcrops all over the moor were used for target practice, and there are many scars created by rifle bullets and mortar shells.
At first glance of the area around swine sty there seems to be a wide expanse of nothing. A jumble of rocks, an expanse of rough moorland grass and heather. This is the scene today, but 4000 years ago this area was good farming land. Climate change transformed the high moorland into the peat bogs of today. The area of land between Swine Sty and Bar Brook is littered with the remains of field boundaries made from the stones cleared from the fields. These are easier to find with the feet than with the eye, as most are buried deep in the heather.
Following the ridge round to the left from swine sty for about 200m, a small path drops down from the plateau. The most remarkable thing at first sight is a small cairn. On closer inspection a low banked wall can be made out on the ridge side of the cairn which seems to go on for some distance. Before this is an odd circular mound with an open end.
This field was excavated in the 1960’s, and the circular enclosure turned out to be the stone base of a timber house, built on the site of a timber only structure. The small bank marks the edge of a field enclosure, while the cairn which draws the eye to this spot is a more modern addition to the landscape.
Retrace your steps back to the area of the ring cairn, and follow the small path that leads up the ridge. This short climb will bring you up onto the main ridge. To your right the higher expanse of big moor falls away to Bar Brook and the A621 Sheffield to Baslow road beyond. To the left the lower plateau of stoke flat spreads from the bottom of the rocky edge for a short distance before it plunges down into the Derwent valley, and the limestone plateau beyond. Views from the top of white ridge are spectacular to say the least, with the western gritstone ridges of Axe edge and Combs Moss, above Buxton clearly visible in the distance to the west. To the north, the bulk of Kinder Scout appears above the lesser ridges of the limestone plateau.
The route follows the ridge, along a distinctive path, passing the trig pillar to the left. After dropping into a small dip an odd sight is seen off to the right of the path on the next ridge. What at first sight seems to be a collection of monoliths with some man made structure among it turns out to be a series of naturally weathered gritstone blocks with a small shepherd’s shelter built amongst it.
The ridge is pocked with a number of small quarries. Given the proximity of easy to work stone on the lower edges, and the size of the quarries, it is probable that the stone from these quarries was used to produce the walls bounding the fields in the plateau below.
The walk along the distinctive ridge lasts for just under two miles, with the last point of note being the Hurkling Stone, a large gritstone block balanced on top of a pillar of gritstone in the edge, a remarkable example of the odd weathering of gritstone. At the end of the ridge, the path meets a drystone wall giving the walker an option. The path to the left makes a beeline for the grouse inn over the edge of the ridge, and knocks about 20 minutes off the route. The purest will follow the final part of the path over white edge moor on a distinctive, if slightly boggy path to rejoin the ridge above white edge lodge.
From this point the walker gets a really good view of the Neolithic remains on the rocky summit area of Hathersage moor. The path winds down the final part of the ridge, with the noise of traffic suddenly rising as the B6054 and B6055 roads come into view. The path drops down to the junction between the two. This is the end of the first and wilder edge of the day.
The modern roads that bound big moor on all sides can be traced back to second half of the 18th century, and the first few years of the 19th century. They are all modern improvements of the original turnpike roads. Turnpikes revolutionised the road network of the times, by laying out routes with a hardcore base and a cobbled surface and adding drainage ditches to either side when necessary. The effort of building and maintaining the roads was the responsibility of the parish, who charged tolls for the use of the turnpikes. Many turnpike roads were walled on either side in an effort to prevent illicit use of the roads by people trying to avoid paying tolls. Of these roads, the road that climbs from Curbar, where the car park is was laid out in 1759, the A621 was a late addition in 1803, and the B6054 where the grouse in stands was laid out in 1781.
Luckily the road can be shunned at this point, by turning left over the style by the road and following the packed stone drive of white edge lodge. The path is easy to follow, skirting around the left-hand side of the building, and dropping down towards the road just above the grouse inn. This leaves about 200m of road to follow to the pub, but the verge on the right side of the road is wide.
The path from the grouse begins from a rather massive style just below the car park entrance. It crosses the fields below the pub and joins another bigger track as it enters Hey Wood. Follow this path down past another car park and down a cobbled path to a small stream, before a short steep climb back up to the road. Cross the road and follow the large track through a gate on the other side.
This is the second edge of the day, following the rocky edges of Froggat edge and Curbar edge. This edge is a lot more tranquil than the higher white edge, and it shows it, as it is usually much busier. Village noise drift up from below, the woodland stretches to the base of the crags, and on the northern extreme spills over onto the plateau above. This makes for much calmer walking conditions, and an overall air of tranquillity.
The path along the edge is very easy to follow, it is broad and well finished, and stays within a few metres of the edge. As the path climbs up from the road the first sight is of a massive weathered gritstone outcrop to the right of the path, this is the first of may such odd sights along this edge. The path meanders through the trees, gradually climbing onto the edge proper. This is the realm of hardy climbers and Sunday strollers, so expect some equally odd human sights amongst the gritstone outcrops.
As the path leaves the trees, the walker is faced with a quite narrow ‘kissing gate’ before being released onto the edge proper. Approximately 200m after the gate, on the left of the path, is an ancient stone circle. The circle is about 8m in diameter with significant entrance points opposite one another. Many of the stones are missing, but the circle is still clearly visible. The circles origin is unknown, but there is speculation that it is associated with the Neolithic field systems on the moor. It is possible that the ancient farmers located burial sites and ceremonial sites within or close to the edges of their field systems as a link to regeneration and fertility. There is certainly no astronomical alignment within this circle.
A short distance beyond the stone circle is the main bulk of Froggat edge. Man has held more than a passing interest in this edge for hundreds of years. Firstly with small scale quarrying for building stone and millstones, and in later days by brightly clad climbers following routes such as swimmers crack and Valkyrie. The latter being a strong contender for the best route on grit.
After passing Froggat edge the route begins to climb up towards the highest point on the lower edge, above Curbar edge. The path becomes considerably more rugged after Froggat edge, with the plateau to the east of the edge being full of rocks large and small. The path meanders away from the edge to aid climbing the small rise. There are a number of routes to follow, some rockier than others, but it is worthwhile making the trek up one of the rockier routes. You can then feel some of the thrills the climbers on the other side feel. The view from the top makes it all worthwhile.
The view stretches out over the limestone plateau from Eyam moor in the north, the rocky valleys of Middleton dale and Coombs dale to the east and the ever present River Derwent at the base.
Curbar edge has seen more quarrying than Froggat edge, and the scars from it are more evident to this day. Looking amongst the debris there are still distinct signs of the principle use for the gritstone from Curbar edge, millstones. At one or two places on the edge they can be found where they have been abandoned, usually because they were broken during manufacture.
The final section of the walk follows the flat top above Curbar edge on the same wide path, before dropping down to a little stone bridge over a brook and a short climb back to the car park.
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